Even in a story that we already know, it is often necessary to provide background information so that the story itself becomes clear as soon as possible. The where, the when, and even a little about the characters needs to be known by the reader in order for things to make sense, however, it does not need to be dumped all in one place.
I read quite a lot, novels, short stories, novellas and flash, all find there way into my hands. Often I go on sprees where I read several books, one after the other in rapid succession. I have read good books, okay books, and some lousy ones, but I always enjoy reading them.
Because with each book there is something to learn about as a writer. Pacing, plot, character development, and how you write the story itself is essential for every writer to learn.
One of the things that a lot of writers have trouble with is the info dump, or how to get the background information to the reader as soon as possible.
Starting chapters are often information dumps as the writer tries to bring the reader into the situation as quickly as possible. Of course the reader needs to know the who, the what, the when and the why, but do they always need to know it all right then?
Information comes in three types and it really depends on the story. In some the information is immediately important so that the story can go forward. In others, it can be teased out and bits can be tucked into other chapters. Then, you have the information that is nice to know, but not really relevant to the story at all. Used correctly, a writer can introduce a story within a few pages or can draw it out into a long novel.
So how does a writer decide how to work in that information?
For me, the first chapter needs to introduce the character, the situation, and a bit of where the story takes place. This should happen in the first page, the first paragraph if at all possible. Names might not be necessary but a brief description certainly is. Hints into the situation are preferable to me than a long background.
The following chapters should deepen that information and give hints to what the plot and story arc is going to be. Secondary information should be longer and still fit in with the story.
I also like to see additional information added as the story goes on. Deep secrets are revealed in books like mysteries, but every story should reveal more and more of the character, setting and plot until it reaches the climax.
So what do you think? Do you like the first chapters to be loads of information? Or do you like to be teased into the story a bit at a time?